COLUMBUS, Ohio — Federal judges decided not to intervene in Ohio’s redistricting battle Wednesday, the date Secretary of State Frank La Rose told the federal court maps must be approved by in order to put on an Aug. 2 primary election.
A three-judge panel declined to step in earlier this month, instead directing the state to have legislative district maps approved by April 20. Since then, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a fourth set of maps. The court has questioned why a second primary cannot be held later than Aug. 2.
“There are a variety of tasks that boards of election have to do after May 3 to wrap up that (primary) election. Then we start planning, believe it or not, for November," explained Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “At that point to stick an election in between means we have to pick a very good time to allow us to finish May 3, still conduct this election and prepare for November. Aug. 2 is really the date.”
Ockerman said the ongoing redistricting saga has been frustrating for local election officials.
“There’s definitely a high level of frustration,” Ockerman said. “Frustration includes a lot of fears and a lot of anger, there’s no doubt, but it also includes a lot of determination.”
La Rose has also doubled down on Aug. 2 being the only doable date for a second primary.
In a letter sent to state leaders Tuesday, La Rose wrote, “there’s nothing artificial about the timelines provided by my office to the court. As you will see, our guidance is based on the law and simple math.”
According to La Rose, Ohio administers elections on a 90-day calendar, which includes roughly 60 days to prepare for an election and 30 days to wrap up an election. There are also various deadlines throughout that time, including deadlines for candidates to file and when overseas military ballots must be proofed and sent out.
“It takes months of diligent preparation, and the fact that many peopled don’t understand that is a testament to the incredible work of our bipartisan elections officials who make this stuff look easy,” he wrote.
La Rose maintained that any date prior to or after Aug. 2 simply will not work. Another reason: some jurisdictions are already holding a special election on that date.
“We have to get this election to coincide with all those deadlines that already exist in state law for August 2,” Ockerman said. “Otherwise you will have communities planning and running two elections at the same time with different deadlines. And it becomes not only confusing and difficult to administer for election officials, but … for voters as well.”
Despite the urgency to approve maps, the Ohio Redistricting Commission has not scheduled any upcoming meetings to continue working on a fifth set of maps.
According to a spokesperson for Senate Democrats, a letter sent to Republican leaders to reconvene the Redistricting Commission has gone unanswered.
The Ohio Supreme Court deadline to produce a new set of maps is May 6.